by Kim Morrissy,
How would you rate episode 9 of
Violet Evergarden ?
Content warning for discussions of self-harm.
This episode sure felt like a season finale. With five episodes still left to go, Violet has already begun to overcome her guilt and grief. Characters from previous episodes even returned to cheer up Violet when she needed it most, reinforcing a sense of closure in the narrative.
This was the kind of episode that seems absolutely central to Violet's character arc, but it's actually anime-original. The novel had Violet find out about Gilbert's death before she even became an Auto Memories Doll. After spending weeks refusing to come out of her room in the Evergardens' house, where she wrote letter after unsent letter to Gilbert, Hodgins eventually gave her purpose with a new job as an Auto Memories Doll. Because the anime takes place in a different context, this part of Violet's story had to be rewritten as well.
In many ways, this episode was more impactful than the light novel's version of the story. Instead of expressing Violet's emotions primarily through her morose silence and undelivered letters, her emotions are written plainly across her face in the anime. She reacts differently to Gilbert's fate now than she would have had she learned the truth in episode one. What makes the anime interesting as an adaptation is how it recontextualizes the events of the story based on when they occur, which gives even light novel readers a fresh sense of perspective.
Overall, I'd describe this episode as stark. The anime goes much further than the light novels in portraying the depths of Violet's despair. In the light novels, Violet came across primarily as lost and directionless in the wake of Gilbert's death, but in the anime, these feelings are tied into her guilt and growing self-awareness, leading to a more intense emotional reaction. Kyoto Animation may have a reputation for creating fluffy and sentimental anime, but that shot of Violet attempting to choke herself with her mechanical hands was downright brutal. Self-harm is never a pretty sight, and that scene was only made more unsettling by the constant shots of the toy dog's beady, accusing eyes and the shattered glass on the floor.
Violet strangling herself with her own hands is not only disturbing imagery, it's also omnipresent throughout the entire episode. This episode's direction had a strong fixation on hands; Violet's bloodied, severed limbs are shown prominently at the beginning of the episode, not to mention the dark red blood she sees flowing down her mechanical hands when she thinks about the people she has killed. The underlying theme is that through Violet's actions - through her hands - violence was wrought. And when she loses her own hands, it's through the most violent means possible; one arm is torn off because of a shotgun bullet, and the other because of a grenade. Violence runs in a deadly cycle that leaves nobody's hands clean. As if taking that idea to its logical conclusion, Violet then seeks violence upon herself.
This will be an uncomfortable episode for many viewers. For all the lack of realism in Violet's backstory, the anime's depiction of trauma, survivor's guilt, and self-harm strikes all too close to home. I didn't expect the anime to be so explicit with this violent imagery, and I'm still shaken over it. I suppose that's a compliment to the anime staff, especially Hyou-ka director Yasuhiro Takemoto, who storyboarded and directed this episode. But it's not the kind of episode that I'll be in a hurry to rewatch for a while.
I also wonder if this episode will ultimately feel too neat and saccharine for some viewers, especially after the dark territory it breached. Violet cheers up because her coworkers wrote her a letter. Nobody gave her a hug or an ear to listen to her woes; they just mailed her a single measly letter. No matter how heartfelt or thematically relevant that letter's message was, this resolution is bound to ring false for some people. Personally, I just felt relieved to see the mood lighten, and I do think that Hodgins' final words were well-intentioned: “All your Auto Memory Doll accomplishments shall never be forgotten either.” No, Violet can't erase her past deeds, but that doesn't mean she has nothing to live for in the present.
On the surface, this episode seems to have tied up the narrative with a neat bow, but it also leaves some hints about what the next episodes may cover. The existence of “anti-peace” insurgents will probably be relevant to the story down the road. The next logical step for Violet's character development is for her to directly confront her military past by forcing her into a fighting role again. For the moment, however, it seems that Violet's job as an Auto Memories Doll will continue.
This was a solid episode overall, even if it did cheapen Violet's redemption by making it happen so quickly. But as sorry as I felt for Violet this episode, a good portion of my sympathy has to go to Benedict, who suffered only for the sin of wearing high heels. Being fashionable is a curse no matter which era you're in.
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